Why Is China Nervous About the Arab Uprisings

The NYTime’s Room for Debate section invites experts and readers alike to share their opinions on current events. This week, the subject is China’s Jasmine Revolution amidst the turmoil in the Middle East. Six different China experts wrote opinion editorials discussing the issue. All of them seem to concur that imminent political uprising in China seems unlikely. However, they also caution that the Chinese government must undertake greater political  liberalization lest it finds itself facing  a similar dilemma in some near future. A good summation comes from one of the contributers, Daniel A. Bell, Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Jiaotong University in Shanghai and of Political Theory at Tsinghua University in Beijing. From the NYTimes:

Inside China, some like Liu Xiaobo, call for multi-party democracy. But most social reformers do not. Pessimists worry about the possible consequences of a transition to democratic rule: chaos followed by strongman rule. Optimists argue for political alternatives that may work better than Western-style democracy, like a legislature composed of a a democratically-elected chamber that would represent the interests of workers and farmers complemented by an appointed chamber (selected on merit) that would represent future generations and other non-voters who are affected by the policies of the government. In short, a pro-democracy uprising is not only unlikely, it may not even be broadly desired as the best means for a transition toward a mixture of democracy and meritocracy.

So why does the Chinese government rely on harsh measures to put down calls for democratic reform? It may be because under the conservative structure of the government nobody wants to be held responsible if things go wrong and hence it errs on the side of caution.

But the best way to deal with grievances is to humanize government, with more freedom of speech, more semi-autonomous organizations, and more social justice. Let bad proposals for political change die a natural death in the marketplace of ideas.That would be far more effective in the long term than top-down control.

Parallels between the “Jasmine Revolution” and the Arab uprisings are  fascinating to consider but  almost impossible to pin down. Nonetheless, if you want to express a particular opinion or perhaps just find out more about the issue, this would be a great place to start.

March 2, 2011 7:24 PM
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